Johnny Trigg, 74, and his wife, Trish, will be one of 49 cooking teams from across the country competing Saturday in the second annual Sam's Club National BBQ Tour championship for the title of national champion and a portion of the $500,000 prize purse.
The winner will take home a smoking $50,000 from the event that will take place in the parking lot of Sam's Club corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
The Trigg's team — the Smokin' Triggers — is one of only two teams from Texas to advance in the national competition.
It advanced to the finals after placing in the Top 10 overall during a first-round competition in Thornton, Colo., and a subsequent regional competition in Albuquerque, N.M., where the team also received first place in the brisket category.
While most cooking teams have five-eight members, Smokin' Triggers is just Johnny and Trish.
“I do the cooking and Trish provides the inspiration,” Trigg said. “She keeps me focused and on task.”
The Triggs met in their hometown of Cisco and have been married 27 years. They moved to Alvarado in 1985.
After spending 35 years with Fireman's Fund, the final 10 as an office manager, Trigg retired at age 58 and, in 1990, started barbecuing in his back yard, which quickly became the United States.
His passion took he and Trish to 42 cooking events last year from coast to coast, border to border. They cooked for U.S. troops in Kuwait in 2010 and will be cooking for 200 Wounded Warriors in Houston the first week in November.
Last week, the road took them to Kansas City, Mo., where Trigg was inducted into the National Barbecue Hall of Fame along with Henry Ford and Guy Fieri.
(Yes, that Henry Ford, the automobile pioneer, for his role in creating the charcoal briquette which, as Trigg tells the story, Ford sold under the name Kingsford, named for Ford's brother-in-law.
Fieri is host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network.)
While the Sam's Club National is a top ranking competition, the Triggs are looking forward to returning to Lynchburg, Tenn., at the end of October for the 24th annual Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue.
“I am the only person to win the title two times,” said Trigg, who won it in 2000 and 2003. “It's a very prestigious competition, drawing teams from around the world and 25,000 spectators.”
Known as “the boss hog of competitive barbecuing,” The Jack has teams entered from Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Estonia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada, Poland, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Norway and Denmark.
All big-time barbecue competitions are sanctioned by the 20,000-member Kansas City Barbecue Society — whose newsletter, The Bullsheet, is a must read for every barbecue competitor and fan — and involve cooking in four categories: pork ribs, pork butts, chicken and beef brisket.
The entries are judged by a panel of KCBS-certified barbecue judges on taste, tenderness and appearance.
“My specialty is ribs and brisket,” Trigg said. “I am known as the rib king and brisket king.”
Entry fees for the competitions range from $300-$1,000, Trigg said.
However, the prize money can be substantial. Trigg took home $50,000 for winning the Kingsford Barbecue Pitmaster Championship, a competition televised on the Discovery Channel.
“The competitions and tours are getting popular, especially with TV exposure,” Trigg said. “It's a very clean sport and I think it will someday be as big on TV as the PGA (professional golf) Tour.”
In addition to competitions and special appearances, Trigg teaches four barbecue classes a year at exotic locations around the country, advertising the classes in The Bullsheet.
“My next class will be in Palm Springs, Calif., and it's already sold out,” Trigg said.
The Triggs travel in a 40-foot, diesel powered motor home that was parked for a few days in Alvarado while they rested for two days following the hall of fame induction.
After that, it's off to Arkansas for the Sam's Club championship, in which Trigg finished in 10th place last year.
That's quite an accomplishment for a competition that this year drew 677 teams with only 50 remaining for this weekend's finals.